Fly In the Ointment, by Anne Fine

A waspish, grimly funny adult novel from a writer of children's fiction

Nicholas Tucker
Tuesday 01 April 2008 00:00
Comments

A sharp sense of danger always crackles in the background whenever Anne Fine writes for adults. The more or less settled resolutions that she reserves for her children's fiction can no longer be guaranteed, while the questions she asks often become increasingly uncomfortable. Her latest novel ends with its narrator inviting readers to sympathise with her decision to take another person's life.

Divorced from her non-event husband, and enjoying the single life, Lois Henderson has been sucked back into family responsibilities after her druggie son dies, leaving his selfish and slatternly partner, Janie Gay, with a baby, Larry, for whom she has no time. Not a sympathetic character, Lois indulges herself with frequent, sharp-tongued diatribes against Janie Gay and the feckless way of life she comes to stand for. Any politician going public with a quarter as much about the iniquities of the undeserving poor would be in deep trouble, but novelists still just about have the power to say the generally unsayable.

Even though Janie Gay was once herself a neglected child, this puts no brake on the furious disapproval aroused in these pages by a single mother so unable, or, in Lois's eyes, unwilling to cope. Moving in next door in the guise of a friendly neighbour, with Janie Gay having no idea that she is Larry's grandmother, Lois sets about providing her toddler grandson with toys and treats, while sponging away the tears that are consistent with his being bullied at home.

Having lost her own son, Lois is determined to make the best of this second chance, and her wooing of this small boy is movingly described. Finally caught out in her crime, but remaining on good terms with the man who, knowing all, still wants to marry her, Lois finishes her story in good heart.

Now in prison, she is preparing to tell the parole board that she is truly sorry for what she has done. But of course she isn't, and on this note of defiance, this waspish, grimly funny and compulsively readable novel comes to its end.

Larry, meanwhile, is happily restored to the only one of Janie Gay's lovers who took a real interest in him. How the boy will feel one day on discovering that his beloved grandmother is also a murderess is one of the few issues upon which Lois does not have an opinion.

Bantam, £16.99. Order for £15.29 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in